A common response to arguments concerning design, or you can call them teleological arguments, is the accusation by atheists of the “Watchmaker Fallacy.” They seem to think the accusation to be quite clever; however, the accusation itself is fallacious. The particular teleological(design) argument that this accusation targets is known as the Watchmaker Analogy. In this article, I will be presenting William Paley’s Watchmaker Analogy, and then give a rigorous defense of it. The Watchmaker Fallacy is defined by atheists as assuming design for life and the universe based off of an inanimate object. This objection will not be specifically mentioned, but as you will see, will be dealt with in much of the article. As I see other objections brought up, I may be adding them to this article as well.
What is the Watchmaker Analogy?
The Watchmaker Analogy was mentioned by a Christian apologist and philosopher named William Paley(1743-1805). It compares some of the common attributes,such as specified complexity, of a watch to the universe in order to show that the universe is designed. In his book, known as Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity William Paley says:
In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone?
Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.
I understand that the way the argument is phrased may be awkward for some people who try to read it, after all, this argument was presented over 200 years ago. Writing styles were quite different back then. What William Paley is saying is that since the watch is complex, but other things within the universe, or even the universe itself, is complex. Anything more complex than a watch must have a designer because the watch itself is designed.
I think the most effective way to use this argument is to compare the watch to the universe. The universe itself is fine-tuned and complex. You could also compare the watch to biological life. This argument is a rhetorical device and also inductive in nature. We can see that this is an inductive argument due to the fact that it is an analogy, and reasons from the bottom up, instead of using top down reasoning. We can identify possible variations of premises for the argument, but I don’t find it to be necessary. The analogy is defensible as is.
The First Objection: The Blind Watchmaker and The Accusation of a False Analogy, and the Watchmaker Fallacy
Richard Dawkins is often cited by fundamentalist atheists; however, Richard Dawkin’s philosophical arguments tend to be both fallacious and unsophisticated. In his book, The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins says:
“Paley’s argument is made with passionate sincerity and is informed by the best biological scholarship of the day, but it is wrong, gloriously and utterly wrong. The analogy between telescope and eye, between watch and living organism, is false. All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind force of physics, albeit deplored in a special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind’s eye. Natural selection, the blind unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.”
This section of his book makes two points:
1.) Richard Dawkins claims that the analogy between man-made objects and living organisms is false.
2.) Evolution and Natural Selection is a “blind watch maker” that is capable of explaining the level of complexity that we see in living organisms.
First, let’s address Richard Dawkin’s first point. That is, Richard Dawkins says the analogy is false. He gives no reason to support this contention; however, he does attempt to support the argument with his second point. William Paley has already given good reasons to accept his analogy, but Richard Dawkin’s only asserts that evolution and natural selection can explain the complexity of life. He provides nothing to support that assertion.
This moves us to his second objection to William Paley’s analogy. He claims that evolution and natural selection can sufficiently explain the complexity of living organisms. Remember, since William Paley’s analogy is inductive in nature, we would be defending the contention that complexity makes a designer probable, or even likely.
While the atheist merely asserts that complexity in life or the universe is explained by natural processes, we can actually give good reasons to reject their notion that evolution and natural selection can explain the complexity of life. What Christians should do in defense of the analogy is show how improbable the atheist’s hypothesis of how life, and the variations of species that we see today originated.
It is an easy to see fact that the universe is capable of supporting life. While the notion of a fine-tuned, uncreated universe is vastly improbable, it would be best to focus on how improbable evolution and natural selection bringing forth species would be. In a book, known as The Anthropic Cosmological Principle by John Barrow and Frank Tipler, they list ten steps of human evolution. They explain that EACH of these individual steps of evolution are so improbable that by the time even one of them were to occur, the sun would cease to be a main sequence star and would have already incinerated the Earth. Now, keep in mind, this shows that the odds are statistically impossible.
An atheist might respond by saying: “Well, apparently scientists don’t think so because God is not included in any of the models for the universe. Prove that God made life and collect your Nobel Prize.” However, such statements show a glaring ignorance of science. Science is the study of the natural world. This means that scientists, by definition, when using science, can not come up with any hypothesis in the lab that includes God. However, scientists also can’t say things such as “only nature exists” or “God doesn’t exist” in the lab either, because science has nothing to do with whether or not God exists. It also has nothing to do with whether or not naturalism is true. Science can’t proclaim naturalism, just like science can’t proclaim that God exists. Any inference to whether or not something is explained by God is philosophical in nature, and thus, can not be inserted into the scientific method.
The Second Objection: A Different Approach to the Accusation of a False Analogy
Some fundamentalist atheists will say that a watch and the universe (or life) are not identical. Of course a watch and the universe are not identical. That isn’t the point. The point of an inductive, rhetorical analogy is to show that the watch and the universe is similar in some respects, in this case, in complexity.
A more sophisticated atheist will try to show that a watch is not similar to the universe or to life, for that matter. However, the burden of proof would be on them. The context of William Paley’s argument concerns complexity. Is the atheist prepared to make the case that neither the watch or the universe is complex? An atheist would have to argue that the universe, or the watch are not complex. Either contention would be a mark of desperation.
David Hume’s Objections to the Arguments from Design
I have to confess, I love David Hume(1711-1776.) He is one of my favorite skeptic philosophers. It is a shame that a lot of the atheists we see trolling on the internet aren’t half as sophisticated as this man was.
David Hume’s First Objection: The Watch and the Universe are not similar
David Hume did not, at the time, agree that the universe itself was not complex. The vast complexity of our universe was not discovered until later. For defense of the contention that the universe is intricate and complex, I recommend this article.
David Hume’s Second Objection:
I’d like to quote David Hume himself on his presentation of this objection:
And what shadow of an argument, continued Philo, can you produce, from your hypothesis, to prove the unity of the Deity? A great number of men join in building a house or ship, in rearing a city, in framing a commonwealth; why may not several deities combine in contriving and framing a world? This is only so much greater similarity to human affairs. By sharing the work among several, we may so much further limit the attributes of each, and get rid of that extensive power and knowledge, which must be supposed in one deity, and which, according to you, can only serve to weaken the proof of his existence. And if such foolish, such vicious creatures as man, can yet often unite in framing and executing one plan, how much more those deities or demons, whom we may suppose several degrees more perfect!
This is actually a fairly sophisticated objection. However, it is can be easily dispatched by pointing out that in a city, you will see varying forms of architecture. Anyone who accepts universal common descent and uses this argument is being woefully inconsistent. If the universe were designed, we would expect to see consistency in that design. That is exactly what we see, those who accept universal common descent would agree that there are a lot of similarities between different life forms. This distinction concerning the similarities of lifeforms is different from the cities that are built by a group people with different architecture. Atheists would have to agree that similar life forms are ether evidence against Hume’s objection, or that the evidence doesn’t support universal common descent due to dissimilarity between creatures. That dilemma would be quite uncomfortable for the atheist.
Another Common Objection: Life, unlike machines, are able to duplicate cells and evolve
I am not sure how popular this objection is now, but it was very popular several years ago before it phased out. The proper response to this objection is that the life that is able to duplicate cells, reproduce, and evolve is complex and best explained by a designer.(You can point out how improbable evolution by natural selection is, as we discussed earlier.) Remember, the analogy argues exclusively for an inference towards a designer based off of the shared attribute of complexity. Our job when defending this argument is to show that the very existence of life and the universe is best explained by the designer.
Another Objection: How do you know that the universe is designed when you don’t have a designed universe to compare it to?
This objection has a double standard. If we can’t infer design due to not having “another universe” to compare it to, then it follows both logically and necessarily that you can’t be justified in saying that the universe wasn’t designed either. We have to examine the facts, and the facts point clearly to design.
Yet another objection: If the universe was designed by God, there wouldn’t be “flaws” in design.
Due to the Fall in Genesis Chapter Three, this objection is not a problem for Christianity. Due to the Fall, we would expect problems in organisms and for things to degrade over time. The only thing Christianity predicts in regards to design is specified complexity. You can still have specified complexity in a fallen world. While the objection could be a problem for general theists or pagans, it is not a problem for Christianity.
ANOTHER objection: The Universe has Objects within that have varying levels of complexity. A rock is not very complex, so the watchmaker argument fails.
This objection commits the fallacy of composition. The fallacy of composition occurs when you say that because some part of the whole has property “x” that therefore, the whole has property “x.” The universe is defined as ALL matter and energy. A rock is a part of the universe, but just because a rock is not complex does not mean that the entire universe is not complex.
A final objection: A snowflake is complex and it is created via natural processes.
It is true that that the snowflake is beautiful and complex, but a snowflake does not contain specified complexity. The Watchmaker Analogy deals with specified complexity, not general complexity.
A Strategy for Defending the Watchmaker Analogy and the Argument from Design:
1.) Remember what you are arguing for. You are arguing that design is a better explanation for the universe and life than naturalistic evolution from a single common ancestor.
2.) Do not allow your opponent to confuse complexity with specified complexity. Both concepts are two different things.
3.) It is not your job to convince the atheist to accept that the universe is designed. Atheists that are adamant about defending their worldview will keep talking even if they are losing or are cornered.
4.) Remember to point out that we have good reasons to accept that the universe is designed, but all the atheist can give are conjectural arguments and unsubstantiated assertions. Keep pointing this fact out throughout the discussions, particularly when the atheist accuses you of not providing evidence for design.
5.) If an atheist says that you haven’t proven 100% that the universe is designed, point out that they are committing an argument from ignorance, a fallacy, with that statement. Also mention that inductive arguments do not prove or disprove anything 100%.